LYNCHBURG, Va. (WSET) — Like lots of other cities, Lynchburg is struggling to fine-tune its economic mojo.
In the past several years, business leaders say the city and region have lost out on dozens of business opportunities that would have brought in thousands of jobs and billions in investments.
According to census figures from 2010, the city’s population stood at 75,568. Just 10 years later, the number rose to 79,009.
And yet, Lynchburg City Schools is looking to close two schools.
According to a study done for the district, over the last 19 years student enrollment declined by 10%.
Parents are not happy when there is talk of closing schools.
“Don’t we want high-quality schools and experiences that bring students in; keep them here, and help our city thrive,” remarked one parent at a recent school board meeting.
Helping the city thrive is something business leaders at all levels say they’re focused on.
Marjette Upshur is the director of the City’s Office of Economic Development and Tourism.
"It’s not anything that the City of Lynchburg or the surrounding area is doing wrong, it’s just the structure of the economy and that’s over generations," Upshur said.
Dwayne Yancey is a writer for Cardinal News.
In June, an article of his proclaimed Lynchburg had the slowest growing economy of any metro area in the Commonwealth.
Yancey cited information that came out last year from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis and a report from ODU on the state of the Commonwealth.
Using a Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond graph over a roughly 30-day period earlier in the year, Lynchburg ranked at the bottom of employment changes seen across the state coming in at minus 1.2%.
"The sectors that make up the biggest parts of the LYH economy have shrunk," said Yancey.
Those sectors include education, health, trade, and transportation.
"That is not surprising," said Prof. Gerald Prante.
Prante chairs the economics department at the University of Lynchburg.
"And so, you’ve seen manufacturing declining significantly in Lynchburg. So, the GDP in manufacturing fell by about 25% over the past 10 years," Prante said.
"When we talk to consultants, when we talk to companies looking to relocate here, we caution them about the data. It’s not a clear picture," said Megan Lucas.
Lucas is the CEO of the Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance.
The Alliance represents the counties of Amherst, Appomattox, Bedford, and Campbell along with the City of Lynchburg. Their focus is on promoting business expansion and retention, job creation, and more.
"We need to continue to grow in manufacturing. We need to have businesses and industries here that manufacture goods and services that are sold outside of our region because those dollars then come back in," Lucas contends.
There is one big hurdle that business leaders are looking to help super-charge the local economy - Pad-ready sites.
"When we hear about our neighbors to the South, North, East, or West, who got that company, or they got that manufacturer, or they got that facility, they’re getting those wins because those communities have pad-ready sites for buildings 100,000 square feet or larger or more importantly existing buildings that are 100,000 square feet or larger," according to Lucas.
Lucas says the region lost out on 65 opportunities over the past six years because the area didn’t have the right land or buildings available.
She estimates it cost the region as many as 12,000 jobs and $5.5 billion in investments.
"When we talk about growing our economy, we grow it by recruiting new companies. We grow it by growing and expanding our workforce," said Lucas.
Business leaders point to work that is already underway in the region as a positive sign for the economic climate.
The Alliance says Amherst and Bedford counties each have 200-thousand square foot pad-ready industrial sites.
Campbell County is also planning one for 100-thousand square feet.
And in Lynchburg, the city is working on three pad-ready sites for the Ivy Creek Industrial Park.
The price tag just for those three sites according to the City is $16,570,000.
Upshur paints brighter business days and economic days ahead for the region.
"I don’t want for one minute for somebody in the city of Lynchburg to think that we’re not doing everything we can to attract new businesses here because we are," she said.